Morse, Scott

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Scott Morse

Born December 4, 1973 (Mountain View, California)
American author, illustrator

Scott Morse is among the rising stars in the comics industry. His debut comic book, Soulwind, garnered some of the highest praise in the industry, and his follow-up books have continued to receive positive reviews. His work spans a variety of styles, from an epic about a powerful sword and the story of creation, Soulwind, to a battle between a tiger and a robot in Southpaw, to a tale of grief and recovery intertwined with a biography of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) in The Barefoot Serpent, to a modern-day Western bank robbery in Spaghetti Western. He has also worked as an animator for Chuck Jones (1912–; most well known for Looney Tunes cartoons), Cartoon Network, Disney, and Pixar.

"If you don't have a strong story, some strong emotion or character moment to tell, you're spinning your wheels. It's in the telling that you get the magic."

Discovers early love of comics

Born Christopher Scott Morse in Mountain View, California, on December 4, 1973, Morse was always called "Scott." His father was a Ford mechanic whose family moved to California from New York. His grandfather was originally from Hawaii and was part-Hawaiian. Morse's mother grew up in Tennessee, and both of her parents grew up in the South. The Morse family, which included younger sister Katie and many animals, lived in Santa Clara, California, for all of Morse's young life.

Morse began reading and collecting comics while in the fourth grade. He traded with a school buddy to build up his collection of the adventures of such action heroes as G. I. Joe (the Marvel run), X-Men, and Daredevil. Morse related to Graphic Novelists (GN) that Frank Miller (1957–; see entry) has had a strong influence on his work; Miller's The Dark Knight Returns came out when Morse was in fifth grade. Attracted to Frank Miller's cover of the English translation of Kazuo Koike's Lone Wolf and Cub, which started publication in 1987, Morse soon counted Koike (1936–; see entry) among his great influences. Kevin Eastman (1962–) and Peter Laird's (1954–) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also ranked among Morse's favorites, along with the many works by independent comic creators he discovered in high school and college.

Best-Known Works

Graphic Novels

Volcanic Revolver (1999).

Ancient Joe: El Bizarron (2002).

The Magic Pickle (2002).

The Barefoot Serpent (2003).

Southpaw (2003).

Visitations (2003).

The Complete Soulwind (2004).

Spaghetti Western (2004).

While in high school, Morse started to think about doing his own comic. These early ruminations started with the bare essence of an idea, of a sword, and what it could do. He wrote several four-page installments, which were published in a fanzine (an amateur magazine publication by and for fans of a particular medium, genre, or movie/television production) called Graphic Enterprises Presents, published in Ohio. These installments, which would later become Soulwind, Morse thought were simplistic and immature.

After graduating high school in 1992, Morse attended the California Institute of the Arts (called CalArts) for two years. He focused his academic work on animation, even though his first interest was comics. He related to GN that working in animation would be a safer career choice, given his desire to make some money, to survive. At CalArts, he was quickly informed that everything he knew about drawing was wrong. He found the course on life drawing the most helpful, and he also learned a great deal about the technical aspects of filmmaking and animation.

In 1994, Chuck Jones's studio hired Morse to work under animation design legend Maurice Noble (1910–2001), who would become a major influence on Morse's work. Noble worked at Disney studios, on such films as Bambi (1942), Dumbo (1941), Snow White (1937), Fantasia (1940), and Pinocchio (1940); he worked as Chuck Jones's main designer during the 1950s and 1960s, and he also designed the backgrounds for the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). Morse told Jim Mahfood of Tastes Like Chicken that "when Maurice would train people, it wasn't a matter of sitting you down and putting you through art school. You would do work, show it to him, and he'd tell you what was working and what wasn't working. He'd let you fly on your own."

Morse decided to write a book about Noble, called Noble Boy, which he published in April 2006; he was designing it to resemble a board book with rhyming text, but was hoping that teens would read it and realize how much of Noble's work they already know. Morse said that Noble taught him that one should have fun, above all else, and it would show in your work. Disheartened by the violence and gore in most mainstream media, Noble concentrated on using charm and timing and boldness as the tools to convey whatever one needs to. Resorting to shock value was a cheat, an easy way out of doing the real work, Morse learned from Noble.

Begins prolific career

Throughout his time at Cal Arts and while working as an animator, Morse continued to develop his comic story Soulwind. The saga weaves together space adventures, fairy tales, Celtic mythology (mythology from ancient Britain), Arthurian legend (tales of Britain's legendary King Arthur and his court), and hard-boiled romance into a tale that is at once epic and intimate. Morse told Tim O'Shea of Silver Bullet Comics that: "It started out as a device to play with different genres and different types of storytelling in one place, and became a big riddle about existence. I'm happy that I was able to produce something that I feel is truly unlike anything else on the comics market while still playing with conventions and tools that are familiar to every comics reader." In 1996, Dark Horse Comics offered to publish Soulwind.

Soulwind first came out as comic book issues, starting in 1997, and was later collected into five volumes; in 2004, it was compiled into a large graphic novel. Morse's work on Soulwind brought him a nomination for an Ignatz Award in 1997, for Breakout Talent. The Ignatz Awards are given out at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) for independent comics. Soulwind was also nominated several times for an Eisner Award, considered by many as the highest honor in the comics industry, for Best Serialized Story in 1998 (for the first four-issue story arc "The Kid from Planet Earth") and for Best New Series. And in 1999, Morse was nominated for the Eisner Award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition.

During the time that Morse was creating Soulwind, he was simultaneously working on several other stories, including Visitations and Volcanic Revolver. For Visitations, which originally published in 1998, Morse took inspiration from films by Japanese filmmakers Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon and Dreams) and Masaki Kobayashi (Kwaidan). Morse tells the story of a young woman who has lost her belief in God and her encounter with a pastor who tries to convince her otherwise by using stories picked randomly from a newspaper. Volcanic Revolver, which was published in 1999, is Morse's salute to the gangster stories of the 1930s. Morse has hopes of adapting Volcanic Revolver into a film and wrote a screenplay for it.

In 2002, Morse published two very different works: The Magic Pickle and Ancient Joe. The Magic Pickle, which was first published as a four-issue miniseries, is a comic romp, a satirical take on superheroes featuring produce gone bad, a heroic pickle, and a middle school girl who wants to be a superhero sidekick. The story is fun for all ages, and Morse visited elementary schools to talk about the book and give drawing lessons to the children. He told Andrew Wheeler for Ninth Art, "They all get it, the boys, the girls, the teachers, the parents. It's amazing to see such a silly character translate to so many people."

Ancient Joe had several distinct inspirations; Morse had been reading a lot of Jack Kerouac (1922–), the author of On the Road, and Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), the author of such novels as The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. He took some of their old legends and wove them into a Cuban story to create his tale of Ancient Joe, who once tricked El Diablo (the Devil) and now sets out to rescue his dead wife from the Devil's clutches.

Morse continued his prolific output, publishing The Barefoot Serpent in 2003. For this book, Morse went back to his family roots in Hawaii. The book is a triumphant mix of style and story. In it, he wrote a short biography of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (who had inspired his earlier book, Visitations), using the biography to frame the story of a grieving family who come to Hawaii for a vacation after the suicide of their son. The daughter sees the legendary Night Marchers and meets a young local boy who takes her with him in jaunts around the island; the mother takes off on her own and ends up at a local shave ice hut, where the storekeeper befriends her. Each adventure reflects on various films by Kurosawa. Morse also carefully contrasted the artwork in the book, using color for the Kurosawa biography and black and white for the inside story, different textures of paper, and a design that Morse hoped would remind people of the Golden Book picture books they read as children. In addition, he researched Hawaiian legends and observed family and friends on several trips to Hawaii, so that the places, people, and the unique cadence of local speech patterns would be authentic.

In Southpaw, also published in 2003, Morse used color and page tones to help tell the story of a tiger boxer who defeats a robot and has to go on the run. He used orange ink on paper that was lighter or darker depending on the time of day as the story progressed. He again used influences from Hemingway, as well as from John Steinbeck (1902–1968), to create Southpaw the tiger; he set the story in surroundings reminiscent of the 1930s and 1940s, when hoboes still caught rides on freight trains. The book brought him the Attilio Michelluzzi Gran Premio, a prestigious Italian comics industry award.

Drawing Inspiration

Morse credits animation and film for giving his work specific qualities. Much of the design and style choices in his books stem from his animation background, he told Tim O'Shea of Silver Bullet Comics: "My background in animation as an art director is all about color choices, so when it comes to my own work in literature, I do my best to art direct every aspect in regards to how it might help strengthen the story. Some things need to be in color to help contrast points, or to emphasize a specific point. Mood and atmosphere are key ingredients in these decisions, too." Certainly his books reflect these qualities, and more.

Morse told Sequential Tart interviewer Anna Jellinek: "I try to draw inspiration from everywhere…real life, people I know, books … and films really do play a big part in my creative process. I think it's the structure of how they feed images to an audience at a preset rate of speed that really enforces narrative and how an audience interprets a story. Match that with a unique style and you've got a memorable way to tell a story." Soulwind is a good example of his intentional use of different artistic and storytelling techniques. For each story thread in the epic, Morse used a unique look to the artwork and a different pacing to the story. To show differences among the story threads, he infused his art with such things as the dark mood of film noir; the light, airy look of a children's book; and the thick brushstrokes of Japanese art.

Animates and illustrates

Though Morse's entrance into the comics industry brought immediate success, he never stopped working in animation. He created animation for Disney, Universal, Fox, Hanna Barbera, and the Cartoon Network on such series as Hercules, Xena, Cow and Chicken, and I Am Weasel. He served as art director for the pilot of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and also storyboarded some episodes in 2005. He developed his own project at the Cartoon Network in 2001, a pilot for a show called Ferret andParrot. Though the show wasn't picked up by the network, the pilot continued to be aired occasionally in the early 2000s.

In addition to his own work, Morse has worked as an illustrator for others, and he's done some stories for major comics publishers on their superhero titles. He wrote and illustrated an Elektra story for Marvel Comics and wrote and illustrated a sixty-four-page self-contained story, Batman: Room Full of Strangers, about Jim Gordon, a Batman mainstay, for DC Comics. It was nominated for a Harvey Award for Best Single Issue or Story in 2005. He's been illustrating Kyle Baker's Plastic Man for DC Comics since 2004; in 2005, Plastic Man won an Eisner Award for Best Work for Younger Readers (bringing Morse his first Eisner Award). He also illustrated Steve Niles's Little Book of Horror: Frankenstein with full color paintings.

Morse remains a multi-tasker, simultaneously working on a number of projects. He told GN that he was working on projects ranging from a story for Goosebumps; a revision of Southpaw titled Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!; the aforementioned Noble Boy; the graphic novel Lyrical Whales; a graphic novel format autobiography called Along These Fiery Paths; a suspense story titled They Cast Long Shadows; and a superhero book, As Big as Earth, with Dean Haspiel. "I switch off on projects as I go so that I don't get bogged down and bored," he explained. "They're all very different in style and tone, so it keeps things interesting." He juggles all this work while also spending time with his wife and son, whom he calls his main projects.

Morse had high hopes for the future of the comics industry and was gratified to see more and more libraries adding graphic novels to their collections. He told GN: "I think it's a great avenue to expose potential readers to the art form, to help widen their horizons, and to expand the public perception of how we're affecting literature on the whole. It's not about sales alone, it's about further cementing the impact on literature, and libraries are an incredible place to make that progress." With his prolific output, Morse was poised to become a strong influence on how graphic novels would impact literature in the future.

For More Information

Web Sites

Beckett, Christopher. "A Conversation with Scott Morse on The Barefoot Serpent." (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Cook, Brad. "A Q & A with Scott Morse." CC Productions. (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Jellinek, Anna. "Swimming with the Crazyfishes: Scott Morse." Sequential Tart. (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Mahfood, Jim. "Scott Morse." Tastes Like Chicken. (accessed on May 3, 2006).

O'Shea, Tim. "Scott Morse: Champion of Many Tales." Silver Bullet Comics. (accessed on May 3, 2006).

"Scott Morse Biography." Mars Import. (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Wheeler, Andrew. "C. Scott Run: An Interview with Scott Morse." Ninth Art. (accessed on May 3, 2006).


Additional information for this profile was obtained in an e-mail interview with Scott Morse in late August and early September of 2005.